With many learning more than one dance form, Madhumitha Srinivasan talks to a few dancers to know exactly why.

The term multi-tasking has taken a whole new meaning with youngsters trying to juggle multiple dance classes; while, in some cases, trying to keep one teacher from noticing any trace of the other style creeping in. 

Options galore

This trend has been fuelled by the fact that the city is opening or has always opened its doors to many dance forms, be it classical or western. The influx of western dance schools and styles being a recent phenomenon, those taking western dance up as a serious pursuit are relatively fewer in number compared to its traditional counterpart. 

So when it comes to the debate of pursuing two or more dance forms, the question of ‘why are you learning it' is the crux, feels danseuse Alarmel Valli. “Becoming a pro demands a great deal of your time and effort. By dividing your time between two or more dance forms, you might not be doing justice to either,” she says.

Valli herself has learnt Bharatanatyam and Odissi. “Twelve years of serious study,” she emphasises. And yet, she ultimately gave up Odissi and plunged full-time into Bharatanatyam because she felt “in one lifetime you cannot understand the entirety of one dance form.” The deeper you get into it, the more dimensions you come to realise there exists. “But ultimately, it's a personal choice,” she states.

Agrees Sharah, a Kuchipudi rookie, trying to turn pro in the years to come. “I have made up my mind as to what I want to do, which is pursue Kuchipudi professionally. With such a mental makeup, I can't even think of learning another dance form, at least seriously.” 

Mohiniattam exponent Gopika Varma begs to differ. “I have also learnt Bharatanatyam for 18 years from Vazhuvoor Samraj. I feel it is good to learn two styles because one will complement the other. For me, the bauhinia I learnt in Mohinattam helped in Bharatanatyam. And similarly, the strong foundation I had in Bharatanatyam helped in enhancing my technique in Mohiniattam.” 

In such a case, what is imperative is knowing where to draw the line. “It is a lot of hard work trying to keep one form's style from showing in the other,” she says, thoughtfully. 

For those like Ipshitha who are not into serious pursuit, learning various styles is more about the experience and fun factor. “Given the opportunity and time I would love to learn more styles.” She also adds an interesting angle to the debate. Learning more styles will help one realise what suits them best and works for them. When you have done that, choosing to turn pro will then become easier. 

Even though Chennai is one of those fortunate cities where you can learn various dance forms in one place, people do not stick just to city limits to take up the job of juggling various dance forms.  Some even travel to different cities to learn the dance form they are interested in. Says Varuniya: “I am a student of Bharatanatyam but now want to learn Odissi too. But since Odissi teachers are hard to come by in the city and the popular ones are based elsewhere I decided to take a break and travel to Orissa for three months to learn the basics of the art from popular names like Sujata Mohapatra. Depending on how it works, I might do it regularly to learn it in detail,” she elaborates.  

In the cultural context, “learning a not-so-popular dance form alongside a flourishing one will help keep them both alive,” Ishwarya, another student of dance, pitches in. 

Ultimately, it boils down to personal choice, accessibility, time and the inclination to work hard to do justice to the styles being learnt, even if it's just one. 

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